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Persian cats to German Shepherds: Kashmiris turn to pets for coping with depression

Srinagar: Rihana Raheem, 15, was unable to get over the loss of her grandmother due to COVID in July. She found herself becoming reclusive by the day.

This was when her parents bought a Maine Coon cat to comfort her. Within two weeks, Rihana’s behavior saw a change and she began to interact with family again.

“I was deeply attached to my grandmother. After her death, a gnawing feeling refused to leave me. The anxiety caused by schools being closed, and not being able to vent out before my friends, further added to my stress levels,” Rihana said.

She said that the pet cat, however, gave her a sense of togetherness. “Bonding with a pet helps you not to feel alone. It is such a light feeling to have a little animal that you can reach down and tickle. Or if you’re sad, they walk over to you. Whether they mean anything by it or not, you can convince yourself, Oh, he gets me,” she said.

Similarly, Umar, 16, hailing from the Nishat area in Srinagar, had been bogged down by negative thoughts after staying away from school for a long time. However, a pet Labrador dog came as a stress buster.

“I take my pet on a walk, every evening down the Foreshore road. This is currently an excellent way to get much-needed exercise, breathe some fresh air, and feel revived,” he said.

He said that the pet can pick up on the emotions and can sense stress or sadness. “They are great listeners. No unwelcome advice is given. Sometimes, just saying things aloud can offer relief or help you work through troubling thoughts,” Umar said.

Umar and Sheena are examples of the pet culture that is gradually catching up in Kashmir. Traditionally, pets were restricted to poultry or domestic animals, but things are now changing and the pandemic is accelerating the change.

Dr. Qazi Mudasir, a veterinarian at Central Veterinary Hospital, Srinagar, said people are turning to pets in these trying times.

“It can be gauged by the increasing number of pets we examine at the hospital every day. On average, we see around 40 pets,” he said.

The most preferred pets among the Kashmiris include German Shepherd dogs, Labrador, Belgium shepherds, huskies, Persian cats, Himalayan cats, British shorthair, Siamese, Maine Coon cats.

Technical officer Sheep Husbandry Department Srinagar, Dr. Imran Khawaja said there have been no significant reports on an animal to human transmission. “The virus is spread mostly to humans through person-to-person contact, not pet-to-person, so interaction with your pets is not disapproved at this time as long as everyone involved — both humans and animals — are healthy,” he said.